The United States is in danger of chaos and possibly totalitarianism, then a new state will emerge
An interview with Erik Best, a US journalist based in Prague since Feb 1991 (CZ audio)
Host Martina Kociánová: The rapid transformation of society throughout the Western world. This statement could be used to introduce many episodes of our interviews with various experts, scientists, analysts. What is happening? How come so fast? How is the world changing? Where is it heading? Where are the changes coming from, and what can we do about it? These are the most common questions that you, our listeners, and we are equally interested in, and that we always try to ask as well. The answers, of course, often raise concerns, because they usually say nothing about a beautiful bright future in which we will all lovingly hold hands and walk with a happy song towards a sunny horizon. That is how the future is portrayed by ideologues, not by people with their feet on the ground, and perhaps that is why so many people fall for ideologies. Maybe they want to believe the dream because it's more pleasant than facing an increasingly difficult reality. It is about ideologies that we are going to talk today, and how they are gradually metastasizing into our lives, but of course not only about them. For example, we will look at the United States through the eyes of a journalist from America who has lived here for 30 years. I'm going to be talking with my colleague, journalist, commentator, analyst, Erik Best.
Martina: I'll mention that you came to Czechoslovakia in 1991, and you've stayed here. But you've lived for a long time in France, the Soviet Union, Mexico, Canada, among other places, so you can definitely say that you're worldly. Eric, what has most struck you personally about the current changes in the world?
Erik Best: I think it's how few people really have any idea what's going on, how there's an effort not to see it, how most of the important and prominent people are involved in it, and obviously think that they're going to get some kind of reward for it, or that they're going to be in a better position in the future, or maybe they just don't know what they're doing. And also that company directors, businessmen, sportsmen and others who would otherwise have done things differently have now decided not to protest and to carry on.
Martina: Acceptance or outright collaboration...?
Erik Best: Collaboration, definitely not. I think you experienced it better than I did, because these are common features with communism. There was certainly something similar in America, but it wasn't as visible when I was still in America.
Martina: Eric, you said you were struck by how few people really have any idea what's going on. What's going on?
Erik Best: What's going on? There's something happening on every front, that is, if I were to say what's happening primarily, it's the shift of wealth and power from the West to the East. This has been going on for a long time, at least 40-50 years, but it always works in a way that it's step by step, it's not so visible, and by the time the normal observer understands what's going on, it's too late.
I am talking about the fact that we have built something in the West and in America, some of it was bad, some of it was good, but we built it over a long period of time. You feel here that a slightly shorter period of time, because you had 40 years of communism, but before that you were also building something, but now we are in the opposite process, and what we were building we are tearing down, destroying, it is an era of destruction, demolition. And I, as an analyst or a person who writes articles, have to be careful how often I talk about something, and almost every day I could look at the events in the world from this point of view, that is: that we had something good, and we are gradually destroying it. Or we've had something bad, and in time we also change it, so the process is not always completely bad, but the result is very negative, because we already do it almost automatically.
For example: the President of the Senate receives the Foreign Minister of Taiwan. There is nothing wrong with that, except that there is a one-China policy that has existed for more than 40 years. I think this policy is wrong from the start. Of course, in school, in university, where I studied politics, I was not allowed to have that opinion, not allowed to have that opinion because I was not mature enough to understand what was going on. But this policy exists, and Mr Vystrčil is trying to change it by hiring a foreign minister, and in a way, maybe not literally, he is breaking with the existing policy, he is creating a conflict with China, and he feels that he is doing the right thing. I do not agree with the one-China policy, but I also do not agree with the way we are violating it, distorting it. And that's just one example.
In the US, suddenly the borders will be closed, and there will be no escape from the unfreedom
Martina: So it's actually a bit of an unnecessary provocation on our part?
Erik Best: Absolutely. But there is also a stronger power there than the Czech Senate, because the politics of the United States is similar, and American politicians have started meeting with Taiwanese politicians after a long time, first Donald Trump, and now Biden is continuing it. The Americans broke off diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979, and instead established relations with China, and at that time it was considered an excellent thing. It is one of the greatest events in modern American history, but in retrospect a very bad move. Then America began to transfer, to hand over technology to China, which it did with the idea that if it opened up Red China, it would help them find democracy. But of course the result has been the opposite, and instead of improving the situation, we've made it much worse. And I don't think Senate President Vystrčil understands that, so he's just doing what he's told to do, but it's more or less the policy of the United States. The result will be ever greater conflict with China.
Martina: We have already reaped what we sowed after our politician's visit to Taiwan, because China then cancelled the contract for the Škoda cars.
Erik Best: That's part of what's happening. Of course, because China has to make it clear that it's not connected to this, but it's paradoxical because whom does it help? America is not going to be helped by this conflict, the Czech Republic is not going to be helped by this conflict, the only thing that is going to be helped is China, because it will have a reason to be more aggressive, and if it wants to expand more, it has to be aggressive. China's policy has always been moderate, but that is no longer the case, and thanks to Mr Vystrčil, its aggressiveness will be all the greater, while he will feel that he has done a good thing here in the Czech Republic. But I don't see it that way.
Martina: You talked about this being a period of destruction. Do you have a theory as to why the West has become so caught up in its own self-loathing?
Erik Best: I think the problem is that few people understand what they're actually doing. For example, when you say that the Czech Senator's policy is counterproductive, he doesn't get it, he's not experienced enough to understand that what he thinks is right is actually very negative. And that is how almost everything works. Almost always there is a good intention behind it, but it has the opposite effect, and it is probably out of laziness, or because we are too rich, or at least we think we are rich. In America, it's often because we can't imagine it other than being the best in the world. In America, you hear on the radio or on TV for a week that America is the best, and that makes it turn out well, which is just a confidence that is based on almost nothing anymore, it's a long-term process. So it's not that somebody came in wanting to damage America, somebody like that certainly exists because they have personal gain from it, but those are exceptions and the bulk of the system is built on what I said instead.
Martina: In one of your interviews six years ago I found your interesting answer to the question why you live in Prague. At that time you said that the United States (even before it existed) was for 300, 400 years a beacon that everybody who was in trouble at home went to. And you go on: "I still think it's the best place in the world, but I recognized 20-30 years ago that that would change, and there would come a time when some people would want to leave. So I decided to be among the first to go." Tell me, do you think that time has come?
Erik Best: Probably not yet. I'm afraid it will come very quickly, and it will be impossible to run away from America. We've already seen it once, they closed the borders, and I expect it to happen again, it may be because of covid, or because China or Russia are too big a risk. The reason will be something like this. But I think it's already seen ahead, and some people have an inkling of what's going to happen. The major powers have often worked this way, they've attracted the best people from all corners of the world, and you could tell they were doing well. But then something happened. For example, in Germany in 1938, somebody saw what was coming and had time to escape, and I don't see such a thing. Of course, there are those experts who have a hunch, I think it's tens of thousands of people like me who are no longer living in America for similar reasons, but they have that view long term. I'm sure there are some wealthy businessmen who have helicopters and airplanes ready, but that there is a big exodus from America, that is certainly not the case now. And as I said, I don't think there's time for that.
Martina: That there will be time for that. You think it's going to come so fast that it's going to happen in leaps and bounds?
Erik Best: I'm not predicting, I don't know. But my assumption is that the borders will be closed and it will be impossible to leave. It's already happened, it's nothing new.
Martina: Like it was with us?
Erik Best: Yes. And it's been impossible to go from America to Canada for almost two years now.
In the U.S. there will be chaos, and then totalitarianism.
Martina: Erik, in our country the borders were closed because there was totalitarianism. Do you expect the same in America?
Erik Best: I'm not saying it will be totalitarian. Rather, I think it will be chaos, and then maybe some kind of totalitarianism, or a strong force. I don't know exactly how it's going to turn out, but it's heading that way.
Martina: Eric, if I quote you again from the interview in 2015, you said then: "I'm a proud American. And I openly say that I like that we have an empire, and I think it would be a shame to lose it. But if we keep acting like this, it's not going to last much longer. We should quickly admit that we have a problem." You said that six years ago.
Erik Best: I would say the same thing today.
Martina: And have they admitted that in America? Or have we admitted it?
Erik Best: No, we haven't. Not at all.
Martina: And what's the problem America has in particular?
Erik Best: The main problem is that we don't admit what the problems are. And besides, America's biggest problems are financial, because you can't compare what the national debt is here to what it is in America. That's why I say I expect change to come very quickly.
There are various sovereign liabilities in America, and the way the dollar works is that the rest of the world wants this currency, is willing to accept it. And that will end. As Hemingway says, "How did you go bankrupt?" The answer, "Slowly at first, and then very quickly." And this will be similar. We're already seeing the dollar lose because Russia, China are already pulling away from it. It's not a big change, but I think there's a really big change coming. I'm not saying I know when, and when the crash of a few dollars comes, planes won't fly, people won't get paid, so the state won't function for a while.
Neither the state nor the banks want people to understand how finance works.
Martina: I confess I assumed you would mention something other than finance as the first problem, but money is behind everything. I thought you were going to talk about the loss of freedom, because the United States for us, looking through the Iron Curtain, has always been synonymous with freedom, and a place of such freedom of speech that we have not been able to understand with our 40 years of experience how great freedom of speech can be. But now we can watch it gradually but decisively disappear. It's a bit like bankruptcy, slowly at first, and then quickly. Tell me, how did this happen, and what's behind it? You mentioned finance. Why is it accompanied by these problems, i.e. the loss and restriction of freedom, especially freedom of speech?
Erik Best: I guess I would start by saying that I don't think that at the level of a normal person, this loss is that great. I still think that living in America today is very comfortable, and from that point of view, these are things that are more likely to exist in universities, on television, but not at the level of the normal person. So I don't think it's like it used to be in the Soviet Union, or here, where you had to worry if you said something. Of course, in America, if you say something, you can get in trouble, but usually it's not that you lose your job or anything like that.
Martina: It's just that these things happen there. People have lost their jobs just because they sympathized with Trump, for example, or dared to point out that not everything Black Lives Matter does is okay.
Erik Best: Of course there are cases like that, and there are more and more of them, that's true. And why is that? Partly because there's an effort to take the focus away from finance, because if we understood and paid attention to what's going on in finance, the problem in society would be much bigger. So when we're talking about whether Netflix should show a movie of some comedian talking badly about transgender, I think that's much more interesting to most people than what the situation is in finance, which they don't understand at all.
Martina: I don't get that at all. Do you think the 2008 crisis didn't educate them?
Erik Best: I don't think so, no. Finance is very simple. I'm an MBA, I worked briefly in investment banking, and the fundamentals are not hard, the economics are not hard. But we make a science out of it to make it incomprehensible. Most people don't understand how it works, and what it means when they get various subsidies or money from the government. The state does everything it can to make sure that few people understand, and the banks do too. Everybody does it. Nobody wants the normal person to understand finance, because then they wouldn't spend so much money, and they wouldn't pay 30 percent on credit cards.
Liberal and conservative views are so far apart that the person who has a more reasonable position almost gets lost in it
Martina: Eric Best, I asked you a question in which I actually assumed we were for one, so it might look like I kind of planted it on you. And so I'll ask it again to be fair. Do you think that in the United States, freedom is kind of going begging anymore? Is there a decline in freedom? Personal freedom of speech, et cetera?
Erik Best: Absolutely, I'm just saying that at the level of the simple, normal person, it's not that bad.
Martina: Yeah, a farmer in Idaho doesn't feel like he's unfree.
Erik Best: If a person is active, and they have a different opinion, or they have a different opinion at work, they can have a problem, and I think that's true almost everywhere in the world, it's not just in America. It's maybe bigger there because that's where most of the technology companies are based, and they were founded there, and to some extent they dictate the conditions, the agenda in the world.
Martina: You said, "If someone has a different opinion, they can have problems." Different opinion than who? Who is the force there now that dictates what opinion is correct?
Erik Best: The mainstream media, that is, the standard TV stations, the major newspapers, and in a way the universities, because there's a lot going on there, more than here. But the principle is very similar here, so I don't think it's that much worse there.
Martina: If we compare ourselves in this way, do you think Europe is worse off, or America, in these matters of freedom and the coming downhill slide, whether because of finance or other influences? Who's better off?
Erik Best: Certainly America, because it has a better position in the world, and it has more to lose. In that respect, it's perhaps the opposite of what is often said, that problems first start in the colonies, and only then manifest themselves in the empire. But I think America is now dictating that direction and trend.
Erik Best: Still, and maybe even more so than 10, 20 years ago. The situation is so much more serious that it's more visible.
Martina: What we can read and hear about America might lead one to think that American society is increasingly divided, even fragmented. Is that true?
Erik Best: It is. But that's also one of the reasons why I say that liberty is not in such a bad shape, because the other part exists, maybe has a little less voice and power than the liberal part. But Trump was a president, he had the opportunity to say what he wanted to say, and everybody has the opportunity within that to choose which camp they want to be in. And the two camps are more or less comparable, equally strong, so it's not that you have to accept only one vote, but you can also have the opposite view. The problem is that these views, both liberal and conservative, are so far apart that the person who has the more standard or reasonable view almost gets lost in it, because they can't be heard, and sometimes it seems like they don't know a little bit what they're talking about, that they don't have the right views. But I think that's also the goal of the two camps, to make the views extreme and to make the reasonable voice get lost.
People should look at the substance of the issue. But that's missing in America, even here...
Martina: You said, "Trump had the opportunity to say what he wanted." When you watched the American media, did anything strike you about the way they reported on the American president when Trump was president? What views were allowed into the media, and what views were not? Wasn't there already something odd about that?
Erik Best: I mostly follow the liberal American media. There's also Fox, so I could probably watch it if I wanted to. It's not that I'm so much in the liberal camp, but it's more important for me to know what the liberal part thinks because it dictates more what's going on. So yes, what the liberal media said about Trump was blatant nonsense at times, but of course accurate at times. But Trump, as I said a moment ago, has been extreme in his views, and while I, as a voter, if I had to make a decision, would side more with Trump than, say, Clinton or Biden, that doesn't mean I accept everything Trump says because I recognize that it's extreme. But a normal person has almost no place in that.
Martina: Now, we took Trump as an example as one representative of the conservative wing, and by extension the Republicans, who had, shall we say, too clearly articulated views. But what do you make of the notion that I've heard that the Republican Party can still exist in America only because most conservatives have resigned themselves to real conservatism?
Erik Best: That's part of what I was talking about, that liberalism, conservatism no longer has the same definitions as it did before. It's amusing to me sometimes when I write something and someone responds that I'm a Marxist, that I'm terribly left-wing, which is comical to me because I've never been left-wing. But I understand that it comes across that way, because the world is divided in such a way that someone who has a slightly different opinion than the left or the right can come across as an extremist, but in a way it's a reasonable opinion, or something in between.
Not all leftist views have to be leftist in the sense of being liberal. Growing up in America in a Republican family, I automatically supported certain things. For example, Republicans always supported nuclear power, not that we had a power plant anywhere near us, we didn't, but there were automatically issues that we embraced without even knowing why. It just worked that way.
In America it was easy because there were only two camps, and you had to be in one or the other. And now that I know a little bit more about it, I'm looking more at the finances, and sometimes I feel like I'm more of a leftist, and I'm not saying I'm against extending or enlarging Temelín or Dukovany [Czech nuclear power plants], but I'd rather look at something other than whether nuclear power is a left-wing issue or a right-wing issue. The way the two parties work is that if you're a Democrat you have to think this, and if you're a Republican you have to think that. But the way I see it now is that that's not the case, and that one should rather look at the substance of the matter. But that's missing in America, even here.
Martina: Look at the substance of the thing. When I was talking and asking if America, American society, was becoming more and more divided, you immediately started talking about political parties. But it would seem that it's also becoming much more divided, to put it quite succinctly, into white and black: Is this a big new problem, or do you remember it from when you lived in America?
Erik Best: If you're referring to race, of course I lived in that because I grew up in North Carolina. So it's nothing new to me, but obviously the relationships are worse than they were.
The United States is falling apart. It's going to break up, and a new country is going to be created.
Martina: Sorry, America has always presented itself to us as a melting pot, one that has worked very nicely.
Erik Best: We knew that wasn't true. I studied in America for 10, 12 years at different levels, and I think I had three black people in my class in all that time. Of course, I lived partly in Montana, where there are very few of them. But society is divided partly because we're just different, we don't get along as well. Not that we don't want to, we often do try, we're just different, we listen to different music, we eat different foods, and so on. But I think the biggest problem, and this applies to white society, and black society, is that the leaders, even though they say they're looking for some kind of reconciliation, they're really not. At a high level, nobody is looking for reconciliation, but rather they are looking for conflict, and of course they are achieving that.
Martina: Why are they looking for conflict? Because it's ultimately a business?
Erik Best: I don't exactly see their mind. Part of it is because they feel that when there is conflict they probably control their people better, it's a question of power, who's going to be there. It's the same as with China, when there's conflict, China benefits. And when there is conflict in America, somebody can benefit from it.
Martina: Do you think, based on what you've just outlined, that the situation in America is such that these increasingly divided groups will be able to continue to exist together?
Erik Best: For a while, yes, but when the financial chaos comes, then some other kind of chaos comes.
Martina: It will go hand in hand.
Erik Best: It certainly will. And as everybody knows, almost everybody has a gun, so I think there's going to be some carnage.
Martina: Do you think the United States will stay united or will it split?
Erik Best: Personally, I think, I've said this before, prematurely, but still, I assume that the United States will break up, break apart, and that there will be a new country. I don't know exactly how long it will take, when it will be, but that's the way I was thinking when I decided I wasn't going to be there anymore.
An interview hosted by Ms Martina Kociánová, an ex-TV host and opera singer, at her The Free Universum: Forward to the Past
Translated with DeepL.com (free version)